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Trauma resilience in frontline policing

exploring how to better support the brain’s ability to process trauma exposure and maintain resilience in contemporary operational policing

Visit the project microsite

What's it all about?

The Trauma Resilience in UK Policing project explores how to better support the brain's ability to process trauma exposure and maintain resilience in contemporary operational policing.

Police Care UK has funded a team at Cambridge University to undertake four key themes (see below. Together, we are providing practical techniques, training material, and evidence-based insight to bring real effective change to trauma management for police officers and staff, volunteers, and their families.

The project has asked three key questions:

  • How can our understanding of healthy trauma processing in the human brain be applied in operational policing to help regular officers process difficult incidents?
  • What can we learn from officers, staff and volunteers about processing atypical trauma exposure, such as explicit digital material, taking emergency calls, working in firearms or Counter-Terrorism? and
  • Can we establish a new evidence-base to address trauma management, wellbeing and working conditions in UK policing?

We have now answered these questions and are now working with decision-makers and police officers and staff across the UK to bring about real change to on-the-job trauma processing, to everyday working practices in at-risk roles and to awareness-raising and support for those with PTSD.

Trauma exposure is part of everyday policing, but its impact on the wellbeing and function of officers and staff across the service has been overlooked, with severe consequences for individuals' mental health, for organisational culture, and for public safety. Being supported in managing trauma on the job should be a right for all officers and staff who commit to this unique public service.

We hope this research can empower forces and inspire decision-makers to invest in trauma resilience at a time when UK policing needs it most.

Key findings

Trauma processing techniques are teachable and well received

Making sense of difficult incidents is something which operational police need to get good at so that they can go from one job to the next (and home after) healthily.

At-risk roles can be better supported to improve trauma resilience

Little behavioural research on forms of trauma which may be unique to contemporary policing exists - which is why it has to change.

Trauma management needs improving to address CPTSD, working conditions and job quality

Our new evidence-base provides the first ever insight into trauma exposure, impact and its management in contemporary policing.

Who's involved

The project, funded by Police Care UK, is being delivered by the Sociology department at the University of Cambridge.

A steering group has been established, with expertise from clinicians, academics, and across policing:

What are we doing?

There are four key themes to this project

Understanding of atypical trauma and high-risk roles

Qualitative research (i.e. focus groups, consultation and job shadowing) will be undertaken with colleagues from SO15 and Counter-Terrorism units, emergency call handling teams, online Child Sexual Exploitation investigators, and firearms units.

The aim of this is to uncover how individuals develop unique skills and coping mechanisms to process trauma exposure and provide recommendations for training, assessment and wellbeing support for those in similar high-risk roles.

Preventative techniques to support trauma resilience

A Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) will be undertaken with new police officers beginning basic training using a full training programme around trauma resilience that equips them with the tools they need to better handle trauma exposure

The research team will then monitor the level of trauma impact on these participants, assessing them every four weeks over the course of a year. Their trauma impact data will be compared to the that of a control group from the same intake in order to gauge the extent to which such training can help individuals’ resilience to trauma.

The intent is to develop this programme, complete with the evidence to demonstrate efficacy, and then work with forces to implement it into the core training programme for all staff Nationally.

Techniques to better support the processing of trauma

A feasibility study of self-directed neuroplasticity and resilience techniques is being planned for 2019 … the four day intensive course, designed for those in specialist roles requiring high levels of cognitive agility, will provide the tools and techniques needed by police officers and staff to better process trauma post-incident.

Trauma Management Survey

A National policing survey based on the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) is being designed to include new questions about psychological hazards, trauma exposure, and everyday policing.

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